As we continued our journey through relationships, Michelle Becker, LMFT, offered us a study on Paul Gilbert’s three circles model of affect regulation within a relational context.
With a clearer understanding of the various systems in which we reside and between which we move during any given day, we now have the beginnings of a new language with which to communicate with our loved ones about what is true for us. And also we can begin to develop more insight into what our partner/family member’s motives and needs may be. Using our mindfulness skills to notice our own states of mind within the three circles framework, we also have opportunities for insight which allow us to communicate and live from a place of heartful intentionality (green system) rather than reactivity, fear, or distancing (red system). You may wish to return again to the video, even if you were present for class, as it was a rich presentation with far-reaching implications for deepening loving connection within relationship — whether romantic, familial, friendship, or work-related.
STOP & LOVE
By Michelle Becker
When strong emotions arise in us, they often drive our behavior and harm our relationships, if we let them. We find ourselves acting out of fear, anger, desperation, shame, etc. Or perhaps someone tells us something really sad and we collapse into our own sadness and overwhelm, and they find themselves needing to comfort and reassure us! When we allow our reactivity to run the show, we lose touch with our own vulnerability, the vulnerability of the other person, and our ability to respond from a place of wisdom and compassion. Whenever our suffering exceeds our resources, unskillful behavior is often the result.
Human as it is to be caught in the cycle of reactivity, we often create greater damage to ourselves, others, and our relationships. In order to move from a place of reactivity to responsiveness there are four basic steps. First, we need to disengage from reactivity. In the words of Viktor Frankl, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” So we begin by moving into the space between stimulus and response. We pause and anchor ourselves in the sensation of the breath (or other sensations if the breath is problematic for us). In doing so we create the possibility of a more stable awareness.
Second, we turn our attention to our own state of being. What is it that was triggered in us, and what is it that we need? Can we choose to respond to ourselves with wisdom and compassion? In doing so, we awaken the possibility of opening to others.
Third, we turn our attention to the vulnerability of the other person. Perhaps considering that we may not know their full story or experience. We begin to tend to them by skillfully listening to what they are saying. Then we broaden our observations to take in the person as a whole. When we open to the experience and vulnerability of the other person, we allow our hearts to melt in response to them.
Fourth, we turn our attention toward choosing our response. We remind ourselves of our values and we choose to respond in a way that has integrity for us. Our response is then rooted in both wisdom and compassion.
One way I like to think about this is the practice I call STOP & LOVE.
To tend to ourselves we begin with the STOP practice:
S- Stop. Remember to pause. We begin breaking through reactivity by slowing down, pausing, and making space for something new to happen.
T- Take a breath. Actually, take a few breaths. Let everything else rest in the background as you privilege your awareness on the sensation of breathing. Anchoring our awareness in the breath gives us the chance to anchor in this moment and this body.
O- Observe. What is happening here in this moment, and this body? Notice the thoughts, emotions and sensations present. No need to change them in any way. Just notice them. Allow the attention to broaden a bit to fully take in what is happening right now. Given your new perspective, perhaps asking yourself, “What do I need right now?”
P- Proceed to Practice. Now that you have a better understanding of what is happening, and what you need, see if you can find a way to honor your needs. Perhaps STOP was all you needed, or maybe you need to take a walk, have tea, sit in meditation. Maybe there are some words you need to hear. Can you say them to yourself now? The point is to give ourselves what we need to move out of the state of reactivity and into a state of responsiveness. Tending to our true needs, rather than reacting from whatever place was triggered in us is the key.
Now that we are in a state of responsiveness, we turn our attention to the vulnerability of the person in front of us with LOVE.
L – Listen. This means letting go of ourselves, our vision of how things are or should be, our being right or wrong, good or bad. Let these things rest in the background and really listen to what the other person is saying. What is their perspective, their truth? What is it they want us to know? When we truly open to taking in what the other is saying, we allow ourselves to be touched and moved, to learn things we didn’t know. Listening is both an act of generosity and an act of love.
O – Observe. Taking in the other’s experience requires more than just hearing the words they are saying. What is the tone of the words? What does the body look like? Are there tears? A hot red face? A look of fear? As we listen to this person we might notice the state they are in. Do they seem scared, angry, lonely, or sad? If we know them well, we might also know this to be a core pain they carry and we can deepen our understanding of the vulnerable situation they are in. We can remember that, just like us and all beings, this person wishes to be happy and free from suffering. We allow our hearts to be touched by the state of the other. We see more clearly what the other person needs.
V – Values. It is helpful to pause here, to remember our own core values. Whenever we take in the vulnerability of another, we have a choice in how we will respond to them. Grounding that choice in our core values allows a wise and compassionate response. If this is a loved one, we might remember that. We might remind ourselves of how important it is to us that they feel safe and loved, free from harm. We can remember how we wish all beings be happy and free from suffering. We might remember our own values or even vows to be compassionate, courageous, kind, or whatever they may be. We pause and ground ourselves in our own values and vows, and then it becomes clearer which actions are in alignment with what is deeply meaningful to us. Grounding in this way allows our response to be guided by wisdom.
E – Express. This is the action part of compassion. When we have deepened our understanding of ourselves and the other person, and allowed wisdom and compassion to arise, it often becomes much easier to know how to respond now. What do we need to say, or not say? Is there a gesture that would be helpful? A smile, eye contact, a pat on the back or a hug? Perhaps the most compassionate thing we can do is to say “no”, or otherwise set a boundary. Or maybe it is to remind them of their importance to us. Often, letting the other know that we see and value them is the most loving thing we can do. Trust your own response and follow through by expressing whatever is needed right now.
STOP & LOVE © MICHELLE BECKER
- For those who wish to spend a dedicated half hour discussing their Three Circles Models, we’ll be available a half hour early for class this Tuesday to have a loose chat about what arose. Attending this is optional — and we’ll begin our new week’s regularly scheduled content on the hour as usual — but we wanted to be sure to make space for conversation around this insight-building tool Michelle provided for us. Join us if you can!
- There will be no class the final week of October. Rest week.
- For those who wish to continue their exploration of Gilbert’s three circles model, Michelle’s handouts are available below. Per her suggestion, you may wish to download the printable model below and fill one out for any/all of the following: You, your partner (friend, family, spouse), or your relationship.
- Filled in three circles model — fully detailed illustration (click to enlarge or print)
- Blank circles model for you and/or a loved one to fill in and share with one another. (Download printable PDF)
- FORMAL PRACTICE: — are you remembering that meditation is an act of love? 🙂 Or is striving in the driver’s seat?
Please practice 20-30 minutes at least 5x per week. You may incorporate Compassionate Friend into your practice, but I encourage you to open to whatever works for you right now. It is never, ever too late to incorporate or return to your Practice Makes Imperfect journal.
Something to try: If you haven’t done a walking meditation in awhile and your sitting practice needs some livening up, I’d encourage you to have a go at walking meditation. If you have some experience with walking meditation and have some pre-existing negative judgements about it, can you try it with beginner’s mind, just once, and see how it goes THIS time? Some people like to alternate sitting with walking practice as a formal practice. Why not give it a shot if you haven’t lately?
- This week’s video and password: “Gr33nBlu3R3d” (Love David’s password sensibility!)
- If you’d like to read more deeply into Paul Gilbert’s Three Circles Model of emotional regulation, you can do so here, which is found in Mindful Compassion, chapter 3.
- As Michelle shared, she is the creator of the Compassion for Couples program, which is an adaptation of MSC designed for people in committed relationships who wish to deepen together, firming the foundation of compassion, generosity, and mutuality between you. To see her most up-to-date couples’ retreat offerings, you may visit the events listing at her CfC website.
- If you would like to connect with Michelle about anything we studied in class, you may contact her directly at [email protected].
- If you love to settle in to a good story and in honor of our time devoted to relationship, I’m pleased to introduce you to the Modern Love podcast if you’re not aware of it yet. Each half-hour episode features a compelling story of “love, loss, and redemption,” often among couples in unlikely pairings. There are romances, sure, but the show also includes unexpectedly poignant stories of mothers and children, a woman and her turtle, colleagues, siblings, old friends, and more. This is free soul-petting at its finest, and it’s a great way to soften a day of perhaps feeling lonely, stressed, or isolated.
At gate C22 in the Portland airport
a man in a broad-band leather hat kissed
a woman arriving from Orange County.
They kissed and kissed and kissed. Long after
the other passengers clicked the handles of their carry-ons
and wheeled briskly toward short-term parking,
the couple stood there, arms wrapped around each other
like he’d just staggered off the boat at Ellis Island,
like she’d been released at last from ICU, snapped
out of a coma, survived bone cancer, made it down
from Annapurna in only the clothes she was wearing.
Neither of them was young. His beard was gray.
She carried a few extra pounds you could imagine
her saying she had to lose. But they kissed lavish
kisses like the ocean in the early morning,
the way it gathers and swells, sucking
each rock under, swallowing it
again and again. We were all watching–
passengers waiting for the delayed flight
to San Jose, the stewardesses, the pilots,
the aproned woman icing Cinnabons, the man selling
sunglasses. We couldn’t look away. We could
taste the kisses crushed in our mouths.
But the best part was his face. When he drew back
and looked at her, his smile soft with wonder, almost
as though he were a mother still open from giving birth,
as your mother must have looked at you, no matter
what happened after–if she beat you or left you or
you’re lonely now–you once lay there, the vernix
not yet wiped off, and someone gazed at you
as if you were the first sunrise seen from the Earth.
The whole wing of the airport hushed,
all of us trying to slip into that woman’s middle-aged body,
her plaid Bermuda shorts, sleeveless blouse, glasses,
little gold hoop earrings, tilting our heads up.
-by Ellen Bass
May your practice and commitment serve to enliven, strengthen, and deepen your experience of this one precious life.